Fantasy Rankings: First Baseby Ben Jacobs
March 16, 2004
Just to give you an idea how much better the first base pool of players is than the catcher pool, the top five first baseman should probably be picked before any catcher goes. Also, the 20th and final player on this list would check in at No. 5 on the list of catchers. (Note: Rankings are based on 5x5 Rotisserie scoring).
1. Todd Helton, Rockies: Whether you think Helton is in the top five overall or merely in the top 10, he's clearly the top fantasy first baseman available.
He may not hit more than 40 home runs again, but playing in Coors Field allows him to challenge for the batting title, hit 30-35 homers and rack up tons of runs and RBIs. The fact that there's still a chance that he could rediscover his 40-homer power of 2000 and 2001 just makes him that much more valuable.
Helton has had back problems at times, but he's played at least 150 games in each of the last six seasons. The back might affect his hitting at times, but it rarely causes him to miss games.
2. Carlos Delgado, Blue Jays: It's probably unrealistic to expect him to match last season's production, but he should be able to manage a .290 average and 38-40 homers. He's played at least 160 games in three of the last four seasons, so he's not much of an injury risk.
If he can once again stay healthy enough to hit fourth in that lineup in almost every game, he should score around 115 runs and knock in around 130.
3. Jim Thome, Phillies: He was able to top 45 homers for the third straight season despite switching leagues, but his batting average was the lowest of his career for a season with at least 300 at-bats. Expect him to bounce back a bit from what was, for him, an off season.
He should hit around .275 while again hitting at least 45 homers, and there's no reason to think he won't score 110 runs and knock in 130 again. In fact, if the Philadelphia offense is as good as it was supposed to be last year, he could even top those numbers.
Thome would be ranked second on this list if it weren't for his finger injury this spring. He should be ready to go by Opening Day, but there's a chance that the injury will cause him to start slowly or even miss a few games. If that happens, he'll lose a little value.
4. Jason Giambi, Yankees: Despite suffering through a wide variety of physical ailments last year, Giambi managed to hit 41 home runs. The problem was that his batting average plummeted from .314 to .250 and his run and RBI totals suffered as a result.
Expecting to play first base more often this season, Giambi is leaner and hopes to have his injuries behind him. He should be able to get his batting average back up to at least .280 while hitting another 38-40 home runs. Hitting cleanup in that lineup, he should be able to score 110 runs and drive in 125.
5. Richie Sexson, Diamondbacks: At this point, it seems pretty safe to expect a .270 average and 45 home runs from Sexson. Playing in the elevation of Arizona, he might be able to get his average up to around .280, but either way you should be able to count on 45 home runs, 100 runs and 120 RBIs.
6. Derrek Lee, Cubs: Lee's offensive production suffered tremendously from playing half his games in Pro Player Stadium. Over the past three years, he's hit .269 with 28 home runs and 111 RBIs at home while hitting .279 with 51 homers and 142 RBIs on the road. With a change of scenery, he should hit .280 with 35 home runs while scoring and driving in around 100 runs.
However, the move out of Florida hurts Lee's value in another area. He stole 40 bases the last two years with the freewheeling Marlins, and he's unlikely to get the green light that often with the Cubs. He'll probably steal around 10 bases instead this season.
7. Jeff Bagwell, Astros: It seems like he should be ancient after 13 full seasons in the majors, but Bagwell's only 35 years old. He's hit at least 30 home runs in eight consecutive seasons and he reached the century mark in both runs and RBIs in seven of those seasons.
He probably won't hit 39 longballs again, but he can give you an average around .280 with around 30 homers, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 10 steals. He's definitely declining, but he's still a very good fantasy option.
8. Mike Sweeney, Royals: Anybody expecting a repeat of the 2000 season when he hit .333 with 29 home runs and 144 RBI is going to be disappointed. He's had trouble with injuries recently, missing 90 games the past two seasons, and he'll need to avoid those injuries this year to be worth this spot.
If he can play at least 130 games, you should be able to expect a good average (he might post the second-best average for a first baseman at anywhere from .305 to .325), about 25 home runs, five steals, 85 runs and 100 RBIs.
9. David Ortiz, Red Sox: Ortiz had a career year last season, but it wasn't that far out of whack with the rest of his career and he's at an age where he should be having his best seasons. If he can get 500 at-bats this year, he should be able to produce a .285 average, 32-35 home runs, 80-85 runs and 105-110 RBIs.
There are two factors working in his favor this season. First, he'll be seeing regular playing time from the start of the season instead of having to wait until June to get a full-time spot in the lineup. Second, the presence of Ellis Burks on the Red Sox roster should mean that Ortiz will not have to face left-handers in 26-percent of his at-bats like he did last year.
10. Nick Johnson, Expos: Even more than Sweeney, Johnson needs to show he can stay healthy for a full season. He suffered from injury problems in the minor leagues and injuries limited him to 96 games last year.
Give him 400 at-bats and he should provide a .290 average, 20 home runs, 85-90 runs and 95-100 RBIs since he'll likely be batting third for the Expos. If he can play more than that, he could have a real breakout season similar to Ortiz's last year.
11. Mark Teixeira, Rangers: After hitting just .188 in April, Teixeira bounced back to have the solid rookie season that everybody expected based on his minor league numbers. If he can avoid an early slump this year, he should hit .280 with 30 home runs, 80 runs and 100 RBIs.
An added bonus for Teixeira's fantasy value is that he played 15 games at third base and 25 games in the outfield last year. Depending on your league's rules, he should qualify at all three positions this year and have tremendous flexibility.
12. Frank Thomas, White Sox: After losing a season to injury in 2001 and struggling through the worst season of his career in 2002, Thomas recovered his home run stroke but not his batting average last year. He's 35 years old and probably won't hit .300 again, but he's still an offensive force.
Even if he only hits .260, he'll still hit 35 home runs and knock in 100 runs. He'll probably only score 80-85 runs instead of the 100-115 he used to score, but that doesn't knock him too far down the rankings.
13. Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles: At 39 years old, Palmeiro's batting average has been in a steady decline, but he's hit at least 38 home runs and driven in at least 100 runs in nine consecutive seasons. That streak might end this season, but Palmeiro will still have good power numbers.
As long as he stays healthy, Palmeiro should hit 30-35 home runs and knock in around 100 runs yet again. You'll just have to deal with a batting average in the .250-.255 range and 80-85 runs instead of 95-100 runs.
14. Phil Nevin, Padres: Before injuries limited him to just 166 games combined the last two seasons, Nevin was coming off two seasons in which he had averaged 36 home runs and 116.5 RBIs. The bad news is that Nevin has already aggravated the shoulder injury that sidelined him last year, and he might never be healthy for a full season again.
However, if he can finally stay healthy enough to play 130-140 games, he should be able to match Teixeira with a .280 average, 30 home runs and 100 RBI. That's a big if, but it's also a big reward if you can get him late because people shy away from him.
15. Josh Phelps, Blue Jays: After setting the league on fire for 74 games in 2001, Phelps was a bit of a disappointment last season. One nice thing to see last year was that Phelps cut his strikeout-to-walk ratio dramatically, from 82 strikeouts and 19 walks (4.32 K/BB) to 115 strikeouts and 39 walks (2.95 K/BB).
If he gets to play 145 games (he only played 119 games last year), he should be able to hit .275 with 27-30 home runs, 80-85 runs and 95-100 RBIs. One problem with Phelps is that he only played eight games at first base last year, so he might not qualify at any position. If you have to use him in your utility spot, it hurts your flexibility a lot.
16. Brad Fullmer, Rangers: Fullmer was in the middle of his second straight impressive season last year when he went down with a knee injury after 63 games. He should be healthy this season, and he's playing his home games in one of the best parks in the league for hitters.
He can hit around .295 with 22-25 home runs, 75 runs and 80-85 RBIs, although his counting numbers may fluctuate depending on how often, and how well, he plays against left-handers. One potential problem is that he only played 19 games at first base last year, so he may be in the same positional situation as Phelps depending on your league's rules.
17. Edgar Martinez, Mariners: At 41 years old, he's definitely not the hitting machine he once was. However, he can still provide some offense, although he'll definitely miss some time with injuries.
If he can play around 140 games, he should provide a .290 average and around 25 home runs, 75 runs and 95 RBIs. However, Martinez didn't play any games in the field last year, so while he's listed in the first base rankings, you probably can't actually use him at first base in your league.
18. Erubiel Durazo, A's: Despite showing that he could actually stay healthy for a full season, Durazo was something of a disappointment last season. If he can stay healthy again, he should improve at least slightly, maybe to a .265 average with 25 home runs, 90 runs and 90 RBIs.
One thing to worry about a little is that the presence of Scott Hatteberg, Eric Karros and Jermaine Dye in the first base/designated hitter mix could cut into Durazo's at-bats.
19. Paul Konerko, White Sox: His final numbers were ugly (.234 average, 18 homers and 65 RBIs), but Konerko's second-half performance was actually right in line with the eerily consistent numbers he had put up the previous four years. After the All-Star break, he hit .275 with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs in 61 games.
He should have no problem bouncing back to his 1999-2002 level this season, hitting .275 with 25 home runs, 80 runs and 95-100 RBIs.
20. Kevin Millar, Red Sox: Millar easily set a career high with 544 at-bats last year, and he seemed to wear down in the second half of the season. He'll likely receive a few more days off this season with Burks, and possibly Brian Daubach, around.
If the extra rest can help him stay fresh, it should allow him to get his batting average up around .285-.290 and still hit 20-25 home runs, score 80 runs and knock in about 90 runs. On the other hand, there are some people who feel he's just not in good enough shape to play a full season. If that's true, then you might have to settle for a .275 average and 20 home runs.
Ben Jacobs can be reached via e-mail.